Did I take up the cause, or did it take up me?

Supporting women during a TOP

It’s amazing what happens when I begin to identify myself as a doula to women (it happened again this afternoon): Women light up and lean over to talk behind their hands about infertility, miscarriage, abortion, breastfeeding, positive births, traumatic births – you name it. Not once has it ever crossed my mind to judge another woman / mother because of her choices, it is so easy to say that one doesn’t. But then I started my work as Bereavement Doula – a very naïve one at that – never thinking that I would be faced with the difficult choice to support a mother having a ‘TOP’ (termination of pregnancy – basically a fancy word for an abortion).

And then I was called to hospital to assist a mother who received the devastating news of a fatal diagnosis of her unborn baby girl, that would most definitely result in her baby dying during or straight after birth – maybe even before that. She decided to have a termination of pregnancy because of this diagnosis and she insisted on a natural labour. I was absolutely and immediately torn between my inherent desire to help a woman birth a baby (especially one having to face this trauma) and my very strict upbringing – especially with regards to abortion (the same sentiments some of you shared here.) I may be accused of having an ostrich mentality, but until that day in that fancy private hospital in Pretoria East, I have never been confronted with being Pro Life or Pro Choice. Most of the time people assume you are Pro Life when you are a doula. After all you are a DOULA – you support women in labour having a baby so how can supporting abortion even cross your mind right? Wrong. It is not that easy. And most definitely NOT black and white. I learned that lesson. And sometimes the universe teaches you when you least want to be taught.

That evening I held a mom’s hand during the throes of childbirth, drying her tears which I knew was not from the physical pain of bearing a child, but the immense heartache of birthing a dead one – by her own choice. Seeing how she struggled to get her body to expel her baby, like the womb was unwilling to let her go, and watching how her husband sobbed so much that I thought he was going to choke on his own tears. Swiping my own sweat and tears from my face, just concentrating on somehow making it just a little bit more bearable for them. I saw with my own two eyes the torment the choice of abortion causes people. I saw for myself how parents thinking they were doing the right, humane thing for their baby, were tortured by the very choice of trying to spare their child pain. I saw the disdain and disgust on other people’s faces who couldn’t or didn’t want to understand. I saw a grandmother angrily slamming a hospital door on a nurse that said the most awful things, tears streaming down her face as she pounded her shocked husband’s chest. I saw all this. And right then and there I made a choice: I will never, ever, EVER (again?) judge anyone who is faced with this gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, life-changing decision. Never again will I be opinionated and outspoken about something that I know absolutely NOTHING about.

We are all different after we give birth. Definitely different than before and often not for the better. But nothing and I mean NOTHING can prepare any women for the consequences of her choice to let her baby sleep forever. And no one EVER has the right – no matter HOW justified they think they are – to judge someone for making this choice. As I drove home that night I asked myself: Did I take up the cause, or did it take up me? I still don’t have the answer. But one thing I can tell you with all the conviction in the world: Don’t judge. Just don’t. Do NOT.

Written by: Nicci Coertze. All rights reserved.

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